Directed by: Kelly Fermon Craig
Distributed by: Lionsgate
Written by Patrick Hao
It is an indictment of the Hollywood system that it took Kelly Fermon Craig seven years to make a follow-up film to her wonderful debut, “The Edge of Seventeen.” Yet, despite the long absence, Craig continues to prove that she is one of the best voices in filmmaking with “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Based on the seminal novel by Judy Blume, Craig’s film is an effervescent, tender, and frank take on the early preteen hood which feels ever so rare in the mainstream Hollywood system.
The first smart thing that writer-director Craig does is decide to set the film within the source material’s original era of the 1970s. The more things change, the more things stay the same. The film follows Margaret Simon (Abby Ryder Fortson), an average sixth grader, who is uprooted from her New York City life to New Jersey suburbia. This transition proves just as hard for her mother Barbara (Rachel McAdams) as it does for Margaret, as Barbara has to transition from being an art teacher to a stay-at-home mom dealing with PTA meetings as her husband Herb (Benny Safdie) works his professor job. Coming during the midpoint of second-wave feminism, Barbara’s new status comes at odds with her artistic sensibilities and self-worth. Craig even devotes time to Margaret’s grandmother, Sylvia (Kathy Bates), a strong-willed woman, newly retired, dealing with the ambivalence and boredom of her new life.
Craig’s focus on three women of three different generations at different stages of transition greatly expands the scope of the original novel to something that is much deeper. This is a coming-of-age drama where age means 13, 45, and 70. Transition is hard and can feel like a godly miracle to survive. While there might be some deviations from Barabara or Sylvia, the film never loses Margaret’s perspective. She is the title character after all. This film works in vignettes, never creating conflict for conflict’s sake. Rather the vignettes are of superficial pre-teen problems in the best of ways. The conflict comes from the existential. Margaret is both praying for puberty and is terrified of it at the same time. She joins her suburban friends as an outsider, a group of WASPs, while she has no religion between her Jewish father and Christian mother.
Craig adeptly handles all of these with a deft light touch. It is no wonder why she has become a protege of James L. Brooks, whose Gracie Films produced both this film and “Edge of Seventeen.” Like Brooks, Craig has the ability to give many dimensions to her down-to-earth characters causing them to feel alive and human. There is comedic warmth to “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” and an emotional depth of humanity that feels so lacking for modern wide releases, especially for stories about young women. That is the essential ingredient that makes Judy Blume’s books a staple of young adult literature. Unfortunately, “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret” may not be finding a pre-teen audience during its initial release. However, there is no doubt in my mind how meaningful this movie is going to be for those who do find it.
“Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.” Trailer